Red Becomes Her

What George Zimmerman's painting of Angela Corey 
gets exactly right


At first glance, George Zimmerman's painting of State Attorney Angela Corey, executed in vermilion, carnelian, rhodamine, yellow and orange, is bizarre. With its rough strokes, it resembles the maniac wall daubs that are de rigueur for television serial killers who always have human blood around to paint runes, witchcraft symbols and mysterious messages.

To Duval County Courthouse denizens, however, it's hilarious. Corey is famous for the erubescent rages for which her predecessor, Harry Shorstein, fired her. When she terminated Ben Kruidbos, the IT director who testified that she withheld evidence from Zimmerman's attorneys, the rubor of the ensuing litigation and the uproar in the press were of equal magnitude.

Among criminal defendants, she is the scarlet virago of maximum charges, maximum bail and maximum sentences. To her supporters, she is justice incarnate; to her detractors, outrage incarnadine.

Red becomes her.

Who knew that George was a wit? Not the nattering classes, which pegged him as a loser and cop wannabe, terms repeated endlessly, like echoes in the empty canyon of modern journalism. I suspected otherwise, initially when I listened to him speak Spanish, his best language, and later when he arrived at trial with a quarter-million bucks he'd scored on the Internet for his defense. The sale of his first painting, of an American flag with blue stripes, for $108,000, reinforced this impression.

In exacting some tiny payback on his tormentor, his choice of weapons was interesting. Nearly all prisoners, under a rough blanket in the solitude of a cell, dream of smashing the skulls of the prosecutors who put them there. Zimmerman chose, instead of a club, the paintbrush.

This is insightful. Most elected officials are notably humorless and irony-challenged. When teased with a funny painting or a bon mot that has more than one meaning, they're helpless.

Zimmerman made his artwork by projecting a photograph onto canvas and painting over the image. This used to be considered an artistic cop-out, until Andy Warhol tweaked the technique to make silkscreens of the rich, the famous and the well-married and left an estate valued at $220 million.

The photograph was taken by Rick Wilson, a Jacksonville stringer. The copyright is owned by the Associated Press. The AP is threatening to sue, and copyright violation is the new halloo of a press that prefers to run in packs rather than think.

This received opinion is insufficiently informed. In Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc., the Supreme Court ruled that a commercial parody, even when sold for profit, can be fair use, rather than infringement, of copyright. The case was brought after 2 Live Crew composed a song titled "Pretty Woman" that mocked Roy Orbison's original. That the Supremes spent many august hours to defend the right of guys like Fresh Kid Ice and Mr. Mixx to have some fun and make a buck makes one think that there is, on occasion, justice in law.

Legally, Zimmerman is justified; practically, he's up the creek. Every schlub who's been cleaned out by lawyers knows that before you arrive at trial, you have to get through motion hearings, discovery and deposition and go through your last dollar. If your bank balance hits zero, you default and the other guy wins, right or wrong.

My prediction? Zimmerman will carve out a slice of the sale price for the AP, which will, in due course, remit to Wilson whatever chump change is due under his contract. It's just business.

I admire George for taking his shot. It doesn't happen often. I sat in Judge Lawrence Haddock's court as he recused himself, with flimsy pretext, from presiding over the $5 million lawsuit that Kruidbos filed against Corey. Attorneys I asked to comment on this story said not a word. All fear her fury.

Zimmerman definitely has some stones. Like justice, those are always in short supply,

In Crime City.

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